Cognition, Dialectics, Whatever (Once was "Guilt, Shame and Coercion plus a little Gramsci")

Paul Henry Rosenberg rad at
Thu Oct 22 19:33:46 PDT 1998

SnitgrrRl wrote:

(Me)-> >
> >Doyle posits an absolute disjunction of reason and
> >emotion -- I reject that.
> In both his first and second posts, though, I
> think he was trying to say that he does recognize
> that they can't be separated in practice.

I know. He's got me confused, frankly. But while I try to puzzle it out, it's clear that at some level, in some way he's committed to such a disjuntion.

> What
> he's saying, as I read him, is that
> thought/reason/ cognition and emotion/feelings, or
> ather the brain functions that are posited as the
> physical 'sources' of these phenom are located in
> separate physical places and this must matter.
> How, I'm not sure.

I think you're right about what he's trying to say in this respect. But there are other instances in which he seems to be saying something much more. Hence my present (hopefully quite temporary) state of confusion.

> >Yes, but completely ignoring what happens on the
> >level of neurophysiology is uwise for several reasons.
> I LOVE you, Paul. Big smooches from SnitgrrRl.

In cyberspace no one can see you blush!

> Agreed very much that we shouldn't dismiss the
> very ideas that get conservatives' drawers in a
> bind. And, I do see *some* reasons for taking
> neuropsych findings seriously. It's not my
> intellectual interest and probably never will be.
> But, I don't dismiss it out of hand. I don't get
> snitty when I think that people naturalize
> biological arguments which I think are much more
> prevalent than you. But I let the cognitive sci
> folks alone to do their work
> A division of labor is a 'good thing'

Agreed. But I would recommend Lakoff's *Moral Politics* to anyone. It shows what cogsci can do on a very practical political level.

> (in the same way that fresh-baked bread is a good
> thing for Martha Stewart.)

Ah, for the days when I had time to bake my own! I used to dress in drag back then, too. And no one had ever heard of Martha Stewart.

> >Pure instinct says....
> Heh. :-)
> >(4) The neurophysiology of cognition/emotion supports a dialectical, as
> >opposed to a bourgoise conception of science. The divide between
> >bourgoise and dialectical science can be construed in terms of
> >positivism vs. pragmatism (objectivism vs. constructivism). The former
> >defines self-reflexive critical inquiry as nonscience and even (most
> >obviously in logical positivism) as nonsense, while the latter accepts
> >such inquiry as a pluralistically valid purpose.
> Now you've lost me. How can neurophysiology
> readily support a dialectical scientific project
> rather than a bourgeois one. What is it about
> neurophys that it seems on this statement is
> *automatically* dialectical?

Well, this goes back to William James, actually. The very moment he put together the phrase "The Sentiment of Rationality" and started driving the positivist types absolutely nuts.

James realized that we are creatures and our reason is inherently not that pure rationality of the Gods which Plato & Co. imagine it to be. James sometimes called himself a radical empiricist, and spoke of the "backdoor of experience." His point was that our "reason" is conditioned by the experience of our forebearers throughout the evolutionary process.

The parallel to Marx should be obvious -- but he's talking about a much more basic level of reality -- the formation of our nervous system, not our social/economic/political system.

Just as Locke had a theory of perception & cognition which had links to his political theory, James provides us with a theory of perception & cognition which is linked to his politics. But James was only a gestational political figure. His class position certainly inhibited him from recognizing how deeply his ideas were congruent with Marx, but this congruence did become much more evident in the life and work of Dewey.

That's the background snapshot.

The foreground is much simpler: neurophysiology shows that knowledge really is constructed.

There are constraints on how it can be constructed of course. (2+2 CAN'T = 5, no matter what e.e. cummings thinks.) But those constraints are pretty much out of the picture where most of the stuff we're concerned about in social/economic/political struggle are concerned -- unless, of course, you're an addle-pated postmodernist.

One can then examine different aspects of cogsci to gain insight into how this might connect, say with concepts of heremony.

This constrasts sharply with the "blank slate" perception theory of Locke, which is congruent with the idea of a simple, univocal reality "out there".

> I've garnered much of my critique of rationalist
> science from the work of Habermas, Brian Fay's ,
> Social Theory and Political Practice and Richard
> Bernstein. Any recommends for my reading list
> next summer?

A very quick read: *Metaphors We Live By* by Lakoff and Johnson. (No need to wait till summer. It's got bit-sized chapters you can read one a night before bed, one a morning with breakfast or however you want to fit it into your day.) They get into explaining the contrast between their account of reason and the standard objectivist/rationalist account.

> I kinda like Fay's argument best. He's trained in
> analytical phil, but draws on Habermas's
> framework.

Analytic phil! Say no more!

> I've read others, though nothing about
> cognitive science which is not really my field. I
> just dabble. Dilletante-like. Fay argues that
> it's not simply that science is an ideological
> construct in the service of capitalist class
> relations because scientists can't really be
> 'objective' or some similar sorts of arguments.
> Rather, Fay argues that the very logic of
> positvism is *conceptually related* to a kind of
> social engineering policy science.

Well, yes, but positivism and science are two completely different--almost diametrically opposed--things!

Sort of like fundamentalism and spirituality.

> Now, Fay
> follows Habermas' work on science, as do I for the
> most part, so he does dialectically work toward an
> argument for an emacipatory science that utilizes
> positivism and hermeneutics (and he doesn't let
> the social constructionists off the hook either),
> but doesn't reduce knowledge to either enterprise.
> I'm being terse and to the point here, assuming a
> common knowledge/language. More later, if
> clarification is needed. I think that this might
> be a response to the concerns you pose in closing.

I just disagree fundamentally with the whole starting point of such an enterprise.

The point to start with is rejecting positivism in favor of pragmatism. Pragmatism recognizes, accepts, validates and celebrates the radical plurality of purposes in life which can produce a radical plurality in cognitive projects.

Positivism seeks to privilege science over all else, including the kind of critical project that Marxism represents.

Pragmatism says that "science" is just a particular body of practice based on disciplined common sense, and to the extent it believes it's something else it's full of hooey.

> My polemics were motivated by the sense that, as
> you note, "there is a persistent fantasy that
> denies" that feelings and thoughts are socially
> constructed and I'd add, that also denies that its
> a good thing that two are interrelated. But the
> fantasy is very much an obdurate nightmare in my
> view. I think that the problem is that everyone
> realizes that they are intertwined, but in an
> ideal world this wouldn't be the case. Procedures
> of science are techniques designed to keep
> emotions separate from scientific thinking, so
> they don't infest pure science with the nasty
> germs of human emotion, morality,. and political
> commitment.

You should read Bronowski or Whitehead. Not Marxists by a long shot, but they sure knew something about how messy real science is and did not engage in such foolish fantasies.

> Separating the logic of discovery
> from the logic of justification and all that good
> stuff.

Sir Karl the Snarl!

> On this view, if we could just think
> without the confusion of emotion (and others would
> say, ethical-political commitments as well) then
> we'd have a better world all 'round.

Absolute rubbish! Without emotion we couldn't decide what to do next!

(You can read Steven Pinker *How The Mind Works* to get the good-enough lowdown on this.)

> And, of course, what's been left out of this
> discussion, though it was included early on, is
> the capacity for moral reasoning. And *that* is
> what most concerns me most about recourse to brain
> research in order to understand how thought and/or
> emotion 'work' or fail to 'work'

If you want to talk about moral reasoning, then Lakoff's *Moral Politics* is a definite must.

> >> ...<best damn fish story I've heard since Moby
> Dick excised here>...
> That was his very first saltwater fish! I'll send
> you the photos.

For real?

> >I agree with this objection completely, but...
> >..I want to caution against throwing the baby out
> with the bathwater.
> NEWSFLASH: The Society for Eliminating Archaic
> Expressions (SEAP) notes that this one's been
> tossed in the dustbin long ago. Please
> substitute: We shouldn't throw the baby out with
> the dirty diaper. No one throws bathwater out
> anymore. They let it whirl down the drain. SEAP
> duly notes, for all you nitpickers, that no one
> tosses things into the dust bin anymore nor do we
> know anyone who picks nits. But hey one archaic
> expression at a time.
> Sorry, couldn't resist. It's Friday! (for me)

'Sall right. Not going to stop using the phrase, though. I'ts got way too much assonance and consonance going for it.

> But seriously, you are entirely right. My polemic
> was inspired by my completely socially constructed
> desire to protect academic turf. We sociologists
> are being attacked on all sides. First the
> English Lit people, then the Cultural Studs
> people, now the sociobiologists (again). I've got
> to make sure that I will have a discipline intact
> so I can a 'real' job someday, Paul. But there
> are reasons as well.

Well, logically there's no more reason for the triumph of nueropsych to threaten sociology than for the triumph of particle physics to threaten organic chemistry.

Politically, though, it's a whole different story.

All the more reason to gain some familiarity with the field, I'd say!

> >Neuropsych should be expceted to provide an explanation which any
> >radical leftist theories should be compatible with.
> Well, if you reject positivism on the basis of
> Fay's argument--because of the policy formulation
> that such a social science not just *implies* or
> *might* lead to but will inevitably lead to social
> engineering policies because of the logic of
> scientific cause and effect thinking, then the
> positivist framework that cognitive research draws
> on is a problem. The knowledge produced by such a
> science lends itself to a social engineering
> policy science which I view as fundamentally
> undemocratic--in the expansive sense of that word.

My objection and alternative -- pragmatism -- cuts much deeper than all this.

Cause and effect thinking is not the problem, however. That's a displacement from the real problem, which is the denial of radical pluralism in legitimate purposes. Cause and effect thinking empowers whoever can use it -- us rebels as well as anyone else. But the denial of pluralistic purposes serves those who are in a position to define legitimate purposes as narrowly as they need to.

> I recognize that positivist research need not be
> thought completely useless--'else why would I have
> bothered to cite social research in the first
> place!!

Again you're equating positivism and science. This is the problem -- you've bought the positivist propaganda at it's most fundamental.

> However, the political context within
> which positivism is privileged --in the extreme--,
> demands that we point out its weaknesses.

Yes, well, it's basic weakness is that it's a fucking lie!

There's nothing more rational about physics than about falling in love.

In fact, if one wants generality above all else, falling in love is a FAR superior model for rationality.

> ESPECIALLY when my interlocutor feels the need to
> maintain that the moral--what I prefer to call the
> ethical-political--is the domain of non-marxist
> theorists.
> Gets me in a snit.
> >Such biologically-based explanations should NOT be expected to fully explain
> >or determine what requires a cultural/historical/economic level of
> >analysis, and if they attempt to do so, this should be taken as prima
> >facia evidence that such explanations are invalid.
> Oh but don't you find that so many times that is
> precisely what is going on here--an attempt to lay
> the foundation for explaining human behavior,
> social interaction, and more macro-social
> phenomena?

But of course! The point is, don't get sucked into the stupidity. Maintain your distance and choose the right fulcrum point for tipping them over with the least expenditure of energy. Otherwise you reproduce their errors in slightly altered form. Becoming like your enemy.

> >This is the kind of false dichotomy I want to warn against. It's not
> >either/or, it's both/and. Feeling/emotion/cognition both resides in the
> >brain (although this locution involving the container metaphor is
> >problematic to say the least, we can let it pass for now) AND is
> >culturally defined and learned. Any approach which does not embrace
> >that duality is inherently flawed.
> Yes. I thought I had taken care to say that:
> "There may be a humanly
> shared physical basis to those emotions, but
> people have 'cutlure'" Of course, I got
> increasingly less measured in the rest of my post,

Yes, the wobble factor. That's why I made the false dichotomy point several times. You seemed to fall into it, then pull yourself out again. I did something similar myself in a way when using the container metaphor.

> but I do recognize that there are
> biological/physical bases to human behavior and,
> indeed, I prefer that research which shows that
> the physical and the social interact. While some
> found it scary and rejected it on the basis of
> fears about the social engineering potential of
> the research, I was intrigued by the study that
> came out several years ago which suggested that
> the brain changes physical characteristics
> depending on the social conditions under which
> someone had been raised. Or somesuch. Perhaps you
> recall what I'm referring to?

Not specifically. There's plenty of evidence like this. We're born with our brains only half-grown or so. It's elementary that our early childhood environment has a profound effect on the brain's development. In fact, that's the foundation of California's Proposition 10 (main promoter Rob Reiner, aka "Meathead") which aims to use tobacco tax to pour money into early childhood programs, supplementing Head Start.

> > but logically if they (shame and guilt)
> >were, it would be quite possible for them to appear developmentally
> >regardless of the outside world.
> Have you ever read Eli Sagan's work on this. I
> can't recall the title of the book. It was
> published around 1989/90.

Nope, sorry to say I haven't.

> But before I get into
> it too far, could you explain how you think it
> would be possible for shame and guilt to develop
> regardless of the outside world?

I DON'T think it's possible, not for a nanosecond. I'm talking strictly a matter of logical argument.

> >Time is not the same as arithmetic. Nor do different ways of measuring
> >time negate its objective existence. The moon was orbiting the Earth,
> >going through its phases long before our ancient ancestors struggled out
> >of the primal ooze.
> Uhh huh. But we don't have a leap year for nothing.

'Cause math is necessary, but the universe is contingent!

> I'm not suggesting that there is no material basis
> upon which things like time and logic are
> conceptually built. I am suggesting, though, that
> there is no reason to formulate human thought in
> terms of mathematical logic

Oh, definitely! Mathematical logic is quite derivative in terms of human cognition. That's part of Doyle's whole point about connectionism & he and I are in complete agreement about that.

It's one of the biggest hoots in the history of cogsci that computer science guys in the 50s & 60s thought that programming a computer to prove theorems meant that a machine could think! When I fist read about it, I just couldn't believe someone could be that dumb!

> which I think Doyle
> uses to refer to A not A reasoning Maybe we're
> light years ahead because of these discoeries, but
> then I think that Aristotle had much right already
> in Physus. Don't ask me to defend that statement
> right now. I apologize for not being to call up
> this info since I stopped studying this kind of
> philosophy quite a while ago and only had an
> undergrad handle on it anyway, but I do recall
> arguments to the effect that logic was a system of
> thought that was developed in a kind of opposition
> to pagan thought systems. And it was very much
> connected to the development of a system of
> measures that sliced up the physical-spatial world
> in precise ways. So, it's political on some views
> and Doyle's post naturalized it. I cannot,
> however, call up the arguments against the
> position you're taking in their specificity as all
> my books are in storage.

I'm not sure we disagree here (Doyle included), so let's not worry about it too much, okay? <G>

But, uh, Aristotle was a pagan, too, you know!

> I am though certainly rejecting what I really read
> to be Doyle's reasons for calling up the term
> "mathematical logic"-- cause/effect logic of
> positivist and neo-positvist science
> >Finally, I'd like to point out that this is NOT totally irrelevent to
> >the subject matter of LBO. The basic laws of neoclassical economics are
> >based on assumptions about human nature, which are in part cognitive
> >assumptions.
> You're the MAN Paul.

Hmmm. Maybe someone CAN see you blush in cyberspace!

> You see right through me.
> Scary. I giggled about this as I typed, because I
> know none of the econo-drones are reading right
> now but I was secretly hoping that they might get
> persnickety. So, while I did know that I was
> skating on this ice with the grocery store and
> time examples, I was hoping that it'd stir the pot
> a bit.

Well, if I don't have time to bake bread anymore, at least I, too, can still stir the pot!

-- Paul Rosenberg Reason and Democracy rad at

"Let's put the information BACK into the information age!"

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